The Female Blogger Deficit: Are We Too Nice, Or Not Nice Enough?S

Despite hopeful stats from a few years ago, men now outnumber women in the blogosphere by two to one. So why don't more women blog? One blogger thinks it's because we're too sweet — but we have some other ideas.

A 2006 study showed 56% of blogs are created by women, and this created a a certain amount of buzz about the Internet as a new bastion of women's representation, in contrast to the old boys' club of the mainstream media. But according to a new Technorati report, 67% of bloggers are now men. As Marian Wang of Mother Jones points out, that's a worse imbalance than at American newspapers, where 63% of staffers are male.

So why aren't more women saddling up the WordPress pony? Dr. Melissa Clouthier has some annoying ideas! She writes,

When it comes the arena of ideas, the women who blog are not typical women. Over and over, the women who blog are tougher. Like the shotgun wielding Western expansionists of yore, women bloggers take shots and can shoot back.

I guess I could be flattered that Clouthier thinks I am some kind of Annie Oakley, but I'm more concerned that she thinks women who don't blog are wilting flowers. That said, I do agree with part of her explanation (despite the fact that she's defending conservative ladybloggers from "'enlightened' male liberal commenters and bloggers." She writes that "just about every conservative woman blogger, including me, has endured horrible personal, violent and sexual insults." And, she continues,

Most women simply do not want to put up with this garbage. They feel threatened and they worry about their safety and the safety of their children. Michelle Malkin had to actually move after her personal information was plastered on the web. She is a mother. She has children. There are nutjobs out there and in this business, there is a very real risk to personal safety. It's something guys just don't have to deal with as much.

I'm not a mother (and I do detect an unpleasant whiff of moms-are-special rhetoric in Clouthier's words), but I have felt unsafe as a result of responses to my posts. In general, both commenters and emailers are respectful, but I have been called some nasty names, as have other of this site's staffers. Are female bloggers more vulnerable to this type of harassment than male ones? Certainly men in the media receive plenty of threats, insults, and unconstructive criticism. However, I would wager that they get fewer comments on their looks, their weight, their sex lives and how all these things relate to their opinions. A female blogger, especially a progressive one, always gets a certain number of trolls who tell her she must ugly, lonely, and (horrors!) fat, and you don't have to be some kind of sissy to decide you don't care to subject yourself to this kind of hazing.

After this reasonably fair point, Clouthier goes off the rails into gender essentialism. She says,

In addition, women often don't like the intellectual jousting. Part of it is gender wiring. Men see verbal sparring as a testosterone-fueled challenge. Women see degraded communication and hostility. When they put an idea out there, it seems aggressive when someone rips the point of view to shreds. And, it is aggressive.

Emily Gould would disagree. On More Intelligent Life, the writer and occasional Jezebel contributor writes about becoming "the kind of person I can't bear: the female critic who despises any female writer who doesn't project what she feels is the accurate or ideal vision of modern womanhood." Maybe she just needs to get her "gender wiring" checked, but she writes persuasively about a type of girl-on-girl "intellectual jousting":

This critic believes it is her job to tear down women who are "off-message" because there is only so much publishing space allotted to women, and so more attention for them is less attention for her and other worthy types. This critic lives inside us all, but she is also embodied, occasionally, by real people. One of them, an online "feminist" columnist, once wrote a supposed defense of "women's voices" that dismissed something I'd written because the photos that accompanied the essay were of me lying (rather unprovocatively, to my mind) in bed. She'd said that the question wasn't why my voice was being heard–the implied answer being, presumably, my bed-lying ways–but why others weren't, "in a media landscape in which there are a severely limited number of spaces for women's writing voices."

Gould and Clouthier are alike in one respect: they both conceive of a special status for women's discourse. Clouthier apparently thinks women are naturally nice and non-aggressive (which: bullshit), but Gould's statement is more complicated. She sees the columnist she discusses above (that would be Salon's Rebecca Traister, and if putting feminist in quotes isn't a "joust," I don't know what is) as part of a kind of female representation police, a group that jealously guards a supposedly finite female canon against unworthy interlopers. Do these police exist? Maybe, kind of — but I think Traister's piece is far more than an attempt to kick Gould out of the sandbox. She wraps it up with the line, "So rather than being troubled by the fact that Gould [...] has the spotlight, why not question why so few other versions of femininity are allowed to share it?"

I'd say, rather than being troubled by the fact that women criticize each other, why don't we embrace it? Yes, some girl-on-girl criticism is a form of misguided feminist gatekeeping, and no, we shouldn't expect all women to offer a comforting vision of our gender. But women's criticism of other women is too often discounted as cattiness, as infighting — men's writing of the same stripe would often be said to present "ideological" or "political" objections. I understand that Gould is talking about a very specific form of criticism, but I'd like to be able to participate even in that form — taking to task someone's representation of "women like me," without feeling like I'm committing a special female sin. Women supporting each other is often held up as a solution to their underrepresentation in all spheres, and it's an important one. But we also need the freedom to speak out against each other when we want to, as men have always done. We need the right to be "tough," in Clouthier's words, without second-guessing ourselves — and without holding ourselves to special standards just because we're women. When we have that right, maybe the world of blogging — a very critical one, but productive nonetheless — will be more open to us.

Where Are All The Lady Bloggers? [Mother Jones]
Why There Are Fewer Women Bloggers [Dr. Melissa Clouthier]
What Are Women Fighting About? [More Intelligent Life]